We moved to Northampton, MA, from NYC 10 years ago. Our first house was in the Smith College neighborhood, with lovely perennial gardens of which we had no business being the caretakers. Despite our best efforts, the gardens became overgrown and we had to break down and hire a professional landscaper to maintain them. Since that time, we have been trying to improve our green thumbs. Our new house has much simpler landscaping, and I have actually taken the time recently, to research how each plant we own needs to be cared for. Nothing has died yet (knock wood), and I was even able to coax a few roses from our rose bush
While things seem to be going well enough outside - our houseplants did not survive the first year in our new home. I decided it was time to take the same tactic with the few new houseplants we have acquired in that time, and read up about how to care for them! Brilliant you say? Well, we shall see. But I came across this article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about caring for houseplants in winter and decided that I should share it here.
Get Growing: Houseplants need TLC in Winter
by Mickey Rathbun
Winter is a hard time for house plants. Dry heat robs them of needed humidity, and there’s less natural light. A basic understanding of what plants do in winter makes it easier to keep them healthy throughout the winter months. Think hibernation.
The leading cause of house plant death — especially in winter — is over-watering! As summer wanes, plants receive less sunlight and naturally slow their growth. Plants that are not actively producing new growth need less water. Keep in mind that plants that live outdoors in summer need less water when they come inside because they’re not exposed to wind.
Test your potted plants for dryness by sticking your finger into the soil. They only need water when the soil is dry an inch below the surface. When you water, water well, and then leave them alone till the soil is dry again.
Over-watering creates root rot. If your plant is wilting, but the pot feels heavy, it may be suffering from root rot. Cut back on watering. If the plant doesn’t improve, gently take it out of the pot and check the roots for mushiness or dark patches. Cut these off, let the root ball dry out over night and then repot, making sure you put plenty of small stones or broken pot shards in the bottom to facilitate drainage.
If you have plants that came in festive holiday wrappings, make sure the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot aren’t blocked. Poke around with your fingers till you can feel the holes and cut away the wrap with a sharp pair of scissors so the holes can drain. Put the plant on a plastic or other watertight tray to catch drainage.
Fertilizer in winter is another no-no. In fact, fertilizer may harm plants. Unless you’re growing plants under lights to stimulate new growth, hold off on fertilizer until springtime growth begins.
While plants suffer from too much watering in winter, they need ambient humidity for transpiration. Indoor heating systems create parched conditions for plants.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to create a moister environment. Run a humidifier if you can. This will not only keep your plants happier, it will create a more pleasant atmosphere for people. You can also place your plants on a watertight tray covered with small pebbles and water. Just make sure the water does not touch the pots. Alternatively you can place glasses or small jars filled with water amongst your plants.
Keep in mind that the kitchen and bathroom tend to have the highest humidity in your house, so plants that enjoy high humidity, including tropical plants, should be placed in these areas if possible. Plants generate humidity, so it helps to group those plants together. And keep their foliage away from frosted windows.
Most plants enjoy an occasional misting, but don’t mist plants with hairy leaves like African violets and gloxinias. They take a long time to dry and can develop moisture-related diseases.
Indoor dust creates another hazard for houseplants, blocking light and moisture needed for photosynthesis transpiration. An occasional bath — once a month or so — helps plants thrive in winter. If possible, put plants in a bathtub or shower and use a spray bottle to wet the leaves. A kitchen sink sprayer is an option for smaller plants. The bathroom shower is generally too strong for most plants. You can add a few drops of dish washing liquid to a quart of water if your plants are really grimy. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
Plants grow toward light. You may notice your plants getting tipsy. Rotate them once a week or so to keep their growth straight and balanced.
One more thing on the subject of indoor plants: If you have plants in a commercial business space, make sure they look good. I mean, would you buy a used car from someone whose showroom is filled with dying plants? Distressed plants are a serious turn-off to customers and passersby. Get rid of these and replace them with new ones, perhaps ones better suited to their environment.
FARMERS MARKETS: Farmers markets in Amherst and Northampton are wonderful places to savor the season’s pleasures and find some fresh local produce. Maple syrup and candies, apples, baked goods, and jams and jellies add some sweetness to take the chill off. Fresh greens and storage vegetables such as potatoes and squash are available, as well as local meat, fresh fish, eggs and herbal and natural skin care products to salve chapped, dry skin. There are also local artisans and crafts people every week. Amherst also features live music.
The Amherst market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 2. (There is no market on Jan. 16 or March 5) at the Amherst Regional Middle School, 170 Chestnut St.
The Northampton market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 30 at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust St.
Garden Center Clinics: Hadley Garden Center has been an invaluable resource for Valley gardeners since it opened in 1963. It will be hosting an informative series of winter gardening clinics on Saturdays at 1 p.m. beginning Jan. 16. The first, Great Shrubs for Valley Gardens, promises to be a fun reminder that spring is not so far away. It’s easy to get lost among the hundreds of varieties of shrubs to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers. Tom Clark, curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard and a former garden center employee, will make your selection a little easier this season as he discusses the shrubs that grow best in our area.
Hadley Garden Center is located at 285 Russell St. (Route 9) in Hadley. Call 584-1423 for more information.
SEED TALK: It’s not too early to start thinking about seeds for next season’s gardens. On Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Ken Greene, founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Accord, New York, will give a lecture on regionally appropriate vegetable, flower, and herb varieties that have been saved by the library. He’ll also discuss techniques for saving seeds and demonstrate a simple way to test old packages of seeds to see if they’re still viable for planting in the coming year. The fee for members is $10; $15 for nonmembers. For more information, go to: www.berkshirebotanical.org
Mickey Rathbun can be reached at email@example.com.